Thursday, January 20, 2011


I recently read a comment by a writer poking fun at writers over the things we do to avoid writing. On first glance, it would appear to be contradictory. Writers who purposely avoid writing? Then why do they write?

Good question.

Let me put the idea into an alternate frame of reference. Do you have a water streak running down the cabinet under the kitchen sink? Maybe a tub that needs a scrub? Do you always attend to those chores right away? While that example addresses the avoidance issue, it misses the rest of the "to write or not to write" conundrum. Let me try another example.

Have you ever watched a cooking show, printed out the recipe, purchased the ingredients, put them away, and then delayed making the dish until the fresh ingredients spoiled, resulting in having to put off the dish for another day?

Avoiding the water streak and the bathtub ring is pure avoidance--we know what clearly needs to be done and we just don't want to do it. Some days, that's how I feel about writing.

The recipe? We want to make that perfect dish, in fact, our mouth salivates to taste it, but maybe we're not in the mood to make all that mess and have all that clean-up, and maybe we're just worried that after all that investment of time and effort, it'll be a flop. Similar concerns are what prevent most budding authors from ever getting published.

And sometimes we just stand before an opened cook book or fridge with no idea what we want to prepare. That's the very worst feeling for a writer.

I completely relate to these problem. I don't fully understand them, but avoidance and procrastination appear to be universal problems for authors and writers, and I'm assuming for people who labor in the other arts as well.

Every time I hit a roadblock, can't find the right word I'm seeking, or see an unexpected change coming in the plot, I leave my chair. Sometimes I grab a snack, wash a dish, change a load of laundry, dust a table, get a drink, pull up Facebook for a minute or just walk around. If you watch closely, I pop in and out of Facebook about fifty times a day for minute or two. If you see me on there, I've probably hit a snag.

For me, it's a problem with a variety of causes at its root. Sometimes I'm just not "in the groove" and able to "feel" my characters or the day's scene. Sometimes I just plain don't like what I've written and I know before I can proceed I have to do some painful "word-ripping" which I delay until I'm certain about where I'm now going to head. Sometimes I'd just rather watch a rerun of "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" and flake out.

What helps? Some people actually force themselves to sit there until they bust through the roadblock. I'm too time-conscious to sit unproductively, so I get up and attend to some other need. Besides, I think better when I'm active. Some people go to the library to write where there are fewer distractions. Now that's an idea that has merit.

I an a snacking-writer, and that plays havoc with my waistline. I need to keep my blood sugar level even or I literally fall asleep at the keyboard. I've awakened to erratic keystrokes in my manuscript, and one day I nearly fell out of my chair. So I'm learning to leave the keyboard when I get tired and unproductive, rest or rejuvenate, and then return.

I work a lot of plotting and character development out in in the car while I'm driving. I often arrive home with a clear view of where I'm going. And music inspires me. I have a few choice pieces of music I play when I need to write a battle scene, and others when I have an especially tender scene I need to imbue with power.

I take my writing problems to bed with me as well. I pick one roadblock and mull it over until I fall asleep. Perhaps it's merely the idea that with the rest comes clarity, but I generally awake with the answer to my problem.

If you're a writer, or an aspiring one, this is my best advice: just begin.

Like priming a pump, writing anything will spur the imagination and get the juices flowing. When roadblocks occur, as they surely will, you'll figure out what works for you, but don't stay away from your work-in-progress too long. Momentum and familiarity with a piece move the work along.

And while I've written this post, I've spent 25 minutes avoiding work on book five, "In God Is Our Trust." Time to get back to work!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post. I have been having major roadblock/avoidance/procrastination issues this whole month! You've given me some great ideas.